Skip to content

Music Mark CEO shares thoughts on equity of access and opportunity in SEND music

3rd July 2018

As part of  A Bright Future for SEND Music in Greater Essex national conference on June 22nd, Music Mark CEO Bridget Whyte used her Keynote speech to discuss equity of access and opportunity in SEND music.

Organised by Essex Music Education Hub, the conference was the culmination of a significant, award-winning 3-year project funded by the National Foundation for Youth Music which has had significant impact on the professional development of music service tutors and school teachers, who have worked together to develop a range of skills and approaches to music-making for young people with Special Educational Needs and Disabilities in Special schools across Essex, Thurrock and Southend.  It has involved partnerships with nationally-renowned organisations Charanga, Arts Award, Sound Connections, Soundabout, and Drake Music.

The conference reviewed the project, heard from tutors, teachers, and partners about their development and learning, and looked at its impact, outcomes and legacy.  Other SEND-focused  initiatives from across the country were also studied, exploring how Music Education Hubs can better support provision in this area and ensure an inclusive approach throughout their work.

Bridget Whyte’s speech, copied below, argues that access to musical learning is something that should be available to all.



SEND Music: the bigger picture

Thank you Charly and more especially to Columbus School for that inspiring performance!

I am delighted to be here and to provide a short introduction at the start of a day which looks like it will be full of opportunities to learn, reflect and discuss how to ensure that music education for all children, especially those with additional needs, will have a bright future!

In case you were wondering, the company I run, Music Mark – or more officially ‘The UK Association for Music Education – Music Mark’ – is a membership organisation for those working in Music Education.  It was set up five years ago bringing together two music education membership organisations, the FMS (Federation of Music Services) and NAME (The National Association of Music Educators).  Our membership includes Music Hubs and Services in England and the wider UK, a growing number of other music education organisations who are ‘Hub Partners’ and/or National Youth Music Organisations, individual music educators, Corporate organisations (who we work in partnership with to support Music hubs and services) and over 4,500 schools nominated by Music Hubs and Services in celebration of the work they are doing to deliver music education for children and young people in the classroom and beyond.  We support our members through events, training, regular communications in the form of newsletters, provide 1-2-1 and regional advice, and guidance and lobby on behalf of our members at a regional and national level for a continued, suitably resourced, music education for all children and young people.

Before I took up my role at Music Mark this time last year I was a freelance consultant and had the privileged to set up and run a global singing programme called World Voice for the British Council.  Traveling around the globe I reflected how fortunate we are in England to have a national network of vibrant and committed music education hubs, the result of a government funded Music Education review (carried out in 2010/11 by Darren Henley who has since been appointed the CEO of Arts Council England) and a government written National Plan for Music Education.

We are the only country to have a National Plan for Music Education and although, six years on, it is perhaps in need of revising (and more on that later), it is an amazingly comprehensive document outlining all the ways in which everyone who has any responsibility for providing music education opportunities for children and young people, might best do so.

I don’t need to tell everyone in this room how important music is to all children and young people, and I expect few would disagree that for those with additional needs music can be a particularly strong tool for learning and connecting with others.  Indeed, there is a plethora of research which can back this up – studies highlight the musical, educational, social, health and psychological benefits singing and playing a musical instrument can provide.

And this is why successive governments have invested in additional music educational activities over and above the curriculum provision which they expect to be provided from 5 to 14yrs.  Currently that investment includes £75m for Music Education Hubs like those running in Essex, Thurrock and Southend.

For many this funding is seen as primarily being used to meet the aspiration of the Minister for Education – David Blunket – who stated in 1998  that ‘every child should have the opportunity to learn a musical instrument’.

Wider ops, whole class, first access, whatever it is called locally, this is now the programme which provides at least a term, and in most cases a year, of music instrumental tuition to whole classes of (in the main) KS2 children.  Of course there are other areas of Music Education – including developing singing, providing ensemble opportunities, and ensuring progression from first access – for which the government want their funding to be used, but for now I’d like to focus on that aspiration that all children can learn a musical instrument.

For me this aspiration is great, but I’m not the only one who knows there are challenges in realising this worthy aim, and also in managing the resulting musical aspirations the initiative may create.

I started the violin at 4.  Let’s imagine that I then went to primary school where whole class ensemble teaching using the violin was provided in year 3, and that in my class I had two best friends.

This may sound like the start of a version of the three little pigs, but stick with me, there is a key point I want to make…..

Entering the classroom for the first lesson, I would hope that rather than finding myself bored by being reintroduced to basics I learnt three years earlier, the teacher might have found a use for my limited skills as everyone else got to grips with the instrument.  But at the end of the term (or year), I would have gone back to my private lessons and continued on my progression pathway – perhaps with some additional skills as a young leader, but the impact on me of the opportunity provided by the school in partnership with the Music Hub would have been limited.  For my two best friends however it might have been significant.

Let’s assume that neither of my two friends had had any musical instrument learning opportunities before year 3, and for both of them this opportunity to learn the violin was inspirational.

As I go home after the end of term/year concert and practice for my next lesson, the other two are given a letter from the Music Hub introducing them to the opportunities for small group lessons, as well as access to various ensembles and other music education activities.

One of them goes home with this note and their parents sign on the dotted line and over time with parental support, they progress and fulfil their musical potential – whatever that might be.

The other goes home with the note and their parents sit them down and explain that sadly there is no spare money for instrument lessons and its possible that their musical instrument learning experience ends at that point.

My friends and I have all had an equal opportunity to learn a musical instrument, but not an equitable one to progress and fulfil our musical potential, and isn’t that what we all want for all children and young people?

I was challenged on the importance of Equity not Equality at a conference in Scotland in February and the image given at that conference was one some of you may well have seen before.  Three people standing in front of a fence.  The tall one can see over the fence, the middle one is just a little too short to do so and the third one is much smaller.  Equality gives each of them a box.  The first can still see over the fence, the second can now see over the fence too, but for the third one the box still doesn’t get them to a height to see over it.  Equity however, means the tall one doesn’t get a box as they don’t need it and the third one gets two – now they can all see over the fence.  I didn’t need the whole class violin experience, one of my friends just needed it and the other friend need it and then additional support, and thus all three of us were able to progress on our musical journey.

This analogy works well when considering how to ensure equity of access for all children and young people, but perhaps is particularly relevant when thinking about how to support children and young people with additional needs.  Some of you may have seen a version of the people and the fence where there is a forth person in a wheelchair facing the fence and for them they are provided not just with the two boxes to raise them up high enough to see over the fence, but also a ramp to access the boxes….


Another project I had the pleasure to work on before taking up my role at Music Mark was Sing Up, helping to develop the programme and then supporting it as it ran for five years funded by government.  Sing Up had a slogan – ‘help kids find their voice’.

Initially the programme focused on getting schools to sign up and engage with the programme through a high-profile campaign, and by providing teachers with songs, teaching resources and training.  However, I can remember a very interesting conversation I had with Dr Paul Whittaker who at that time was the Director of Music and the Deaf.  He challenged the programme to help ALL kids ‘find their voice’.

He pointed out that for some ‘kids’ their voice is BSL – British Sign Language.  He then highlighted the fact that, like any language, BSL has its own syntax and grammar, and that simply translating the lyrics of a song word for word would not work – just as translating a French sentence word for word into English often will result in that sentence not making any sense.  This conversation resulted in Music and the Deaf working with Sing Up to create a large bank of signed videos to accompany songs within their Song Bank (ie creating that ramp needed to ensure equity of access), but they also worked together on a project where children wrote lyrics in BSL which were then put to music and finally translated into English.

What this, and many other examples I could give, taught me was that if we are to truly help all kids to find their voice (or have the opportunity to learn a musical instrument) we need to understand what the barriers are and what can be done to overcome them.

My earlier illustation of me and my friends demonstrated the need to consider how to provide equity of access to progression, how we ensure all children and young people can fulfil their musical potential, but also we need to think about equity to first access, what is going to ensure equity of access to initial musical learning, what are the boxes and ramps needed to start with.


Like Sing Up, initially Music Education Hubs had their work cut out to realise the ambitious vision within the National Plan.  For most, the focus to start with was on delivery of, what might be called standard, first access programmes in mainstream schools.  Providing whole class tuition yes, but not necessarily having the knowledge or resources to ensure that these opportunities were fully inclusive.  However, we’ve come a long way since 2012, and there are many exciting and innovative ways in which music teachers are now ensuring more inclusive access in mainstream settings, and delivering first access programmes in Special schools too.

One great example of the ways programmes are becoming more inclusive is through considering the instruments being given to children.  The charity OHMI – the One Handed Musical Instruments Trust – challenges instrument makers to consider how adaptations might be made to instruments so that they can be played by the physically disabled and they have been working with an increasing number of music services to support whole class learning.

Indeed this organisation’s pioneering work was mentioned within an open letter from Nick Gibb to Darren Henley in early 2017.  The trust’s work was used as an example which supported the government’s wish to ensure that Music Education Hubs were doing all they could to be inclusive.  Although the Core and Extension Roles were not updated following the letter, the DfE did provide some additional guidance to encourage hubs to focus on how to engage with children from low-income families, to consider the many aspects of additional need which are given the collective term SEND and consider how to address Social Mobility.

At a national level, in response to Nick Gibbs letter, a number of things have been done to help increase knowledge and understanding and signpost teachers to resources. For instance, Drake Music in partnership with other music educators through the Music Education Council, launched an online ‘Short Guide to Accessible Music Education’ last autumn, and earlier this year Youth Music published a great report on inclusive practice.

This report not only challenges hubs and services to think more about how to ensure that the Core and Extension Roles within the National Plan are delivered in a fully inclusive way, but also gives some great examples of how this is already being done including quite a few from Essex!  I could highlight so many of the examples within the report, but for now here are a few to whet your appertite:

In Hertfordshire the Music Service has developed a ‘hockets-based workshop that draws on the ‘one person, one note’ pedagogy to teach classical instrumental technique and composition – byallocating different ukulele notes to trios of pupils the whole class can play scales and tunes.

In Bristol they are doing lots of great SEND focussed work, and I won’t steel too much of Siggy’s thunder by talking about everything they are doing, but one exciting element of their work has been the development of a Certificate in Music Education (CME) course called the ‘Inclusive Practitioner’.  It is focused on training those working in SEND settings and has bursaries available for musicians with SEND who wish to develop their music leading skills.

And here in Greater Essex, equity of access is being addressed in many ways, including through significant financial discounts for low income families and free learning for children in the looked after system.  Also, through the use of assistive music technology, Essex Music Service, in partnership with Drake Music, are providing equity of offer to children with additional needs involved in whole class lessons.


What it is clear from these examples and my conversations with hubs and services across the country, is that the steer from government last year has encouraged them to review and develop more programmes and initiatives which tackle inclusion, and I feel there is now real momentum for systemic change.


As I said earlier, the National Plan for Music Education was written as the result of Darren Henley’s Music Education review and was published in 2011.  It was proposed that the plan would be in place from April 2012 to March 2020.  With less than 2 years left, the Music Education Sector is now therefore beginning to wonder what might a National Plan for Music Education 2 contain.

Music Mark, along with colleagues from other national organisations such as Youth Music and the Arts Council, has been working hard to consult teachers, Music Education Hubs, other organisations so that, we can provide a steer to the Department for Education as they begin the task of reviewing the current plan.

Equity of access and opportunity is central to our thinking.  Specific and/or inclusive programmes that enable children and young people with additional needs to realise their musical aspirations and fulfil their potential, will be a key message within the recommendations we make.   We need to ensure that we provide all the boxes and ramps that are needed for all children to have access to music, and additional boxes, ramps or whatever else is required to ensure equity of opportunity to progress.


Music is part of everyone’s lives and our lives are the richer for it.

Scientists have said that music makes us happy, but we already knew that!

They’ve also said it can bring us together – every football fan in Russia this month would agree there.

And it’s a powerful tool in learning – advertising gurus know that putting a company’s phone number to music means everyone will remember it.

Because of all this, access to musical learning is something that should be available to all.

I am very proud to be at the helm of Music Mark as it supports the network of Music Educators across the country, and excited by the potential you – as those Music Educators – have to nurture and develop the musical lives of the nation’s children and young people.  I would like to challenge each of you to take time today to think about the music education you provide and reflect on how you might adapt what you do to be more inclusive, to consider what might be needed to leave no one unable to see over the fence.

I hope that you have a really exciting day of learning and leave with many inspiring ideas and useful resources which you can add to your everyday teaching.  I am confident that today will be a key part of ensuring a Bright Future for SEND music in Greater Essex and beyond!